1. BRING YOUR STROLLER.
I don’t care if you don’t generally use a stroller, or you won’t be using a stroller at your destination. You will be using it in the airport! You will be using it to push ALL THE CRAP I MADE YOU PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON from the curb to the departures gate, and then back from your arrivals gate to the curb again on the other side.
That said, don’t bring a stroller that is difficult to collapse or has to be taken apart. Traveling with my Bugaboo when Diddy was a baby was the direct cause of me returning home and immediately selling it to an unsuspecting FTM so I could go buy a City Mini instead. I friggin’ love my City Mini, and my Double City Mini, so incredibly much that if you take nothing else away from this blog, take this:
2. WEAR YOUR BABY.
Yep. Even if he’s usually in the stroller. Your stroller will be busy PUSHING ALL YOUR CARRY-ON CRAP THROUGH THE AIRPORT.
So wear your baby. If you don’t already have an Ergo Baby Carrier, this might be a good time to get one — mostly because it is SUPER COMFY to wear, supports kids up to 12-45 lbs (and also 7-12 lbs, if you use the insert), and has pockets that are perfect for stashing pacifiers and boarding passes in. And you can wear your kid in front or in back. And it’s just awesome. Really. Especially for long days at the airport …
Are your kids expert walkers? Then make them walk. It’s good for them. It’ll get their wiggles out before you hit the plane.
3. BRINGING YOUR CAR SEAT? PILE IT ON THE STROLLER.
Then load all your other carry-on crap around it somehow. You will figure it out. You’re a smart chick, despite having planned to travel by air with your baby and other assorted small children.
Even if you’re not bringing your car seat on the plane, don’t check it in luggage. Drag it through the airport, and check it at the gate. It’s less likely to get damaged if you check it at the gate then if you put it in checked luggage. (Or so I think. Anybody working for baggage wanna disabuse me of this notion?)
Oh and: if you booked a separate seat for your baby or toddler, and you ARE bringing a car seat for that there extra seat, here’s something you need to know:
THE CAR SEAT HAS TO BE INSTALLED IN THE WINDOW SEAT. It’s a FAA regulation — in case of emergency, you can’t slow passengers down by having a car seat blocking their exit to the aisle. Which means if you are traveling with a car seat, you are stuck sitting in the middle seat.
You try the crafty “book-the-window-and-the-aisle-and-hope-the-middle-seat-goes-unbooked” trick to try to win the whole row for yourself. Best case: you win the whole row. Worst case: you make someone’s day when she shows up expecting to be sandwiched in the middle seat the entire flight and is suddenly GIFTED the aisle seat you’d bought because you have to go sit next to your WINDOW SEAT kid.
Oh and: if your kid has recently graduated from his INFANT SEAT to a CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT, but still realistically can fit in his infant seat — travel with the infant seat. WAY SMALLER. WAY LIGHTER. WAY EASIER TO INSTALL ON THE AIRPLANE.
4. COUNT EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU LOAD IT IN YOUR CAR.
Suitcases + carry-ons + stroller + car seat + whatever your kid insists in carrying in her arms = TOTAL LUGGAGE NUMBER.
Memorize that TOTAL LUGGAGE NUMBER.
5. COUNT EVERYTHING AFTER YOU ARRIVE AT THE AIRPORT.
Make sure you still have the same amount of stuff you packed IN the car when you get OUT of the car — double check your TOTAL LUGGAGE NUMBER hasn’t changed.
6. CHECK EVERYTHING YOU CAN — BESIDES THE STROLLER AND CAR SEAT.
I know it’s a PITA to lug the car seat through the airport. I just feel — I know I’m repeating myself — that car seats get less banged around when you check them at the gate than when you check them with checked luggage.
Mr. Big(Ideas) once packed two of our brand new Radians inside their original boxes but sans their original package padding and checked them through from NY to LA. Those boxes were way banged up — I’m sure I’ve been in car wrecks where my car seats sustained less damage. But we were many many many kids in at this point and I decided if the seats didn’t actually SHOW damage, I wasn’t spending another $500+ to replace them. So I didn’t.
So I don’t judge if you decide to check your car seats at check-in, protected by nothing but that airline plastic bag.
7. NOW COUNT WHAT YOUR LEFT CARRYING THROUGH THE AIRPORT.
Carry-on bags + stroller + car seat + whatever your kids insists in carrying in her arms = CARRY-ON NUMBER.
8. PURCHASE MILK AND WATER IN THE AIRPORT AFTER GOING THROUGH SECURITY.
Seriously: if you can possibly avoid carrying milk and mixed formula through security, AVOID IT. Not worth the PITA of having all your bottles tested for explosive residues.
Mix your formula with water you purchase AFTER getting through security. And fill bottles and sippy cups with milk that way, too. Do this in the airport before boarding, because you want liquids your kids can swallow to reduce air-pressure pain, ready to go for take-off.
Oh and, as long as we’re talking sippy cups, I truly adore The Safe Sporter by Kid Basix
for travel. They’re stainless steel, so they insulate beverages well; they only have TWO pieces (the cup and the top) so they are easy to rinse clean wherever you happen to be rinsing things; and they come in several colors, so you can assign each kid a color and easily figure out whose cup is whose when you’re on-the-go.
9. IF YOUR BABY IS MOBILE, LET HIM CRAWL AROUND THE GATE AREA BEFORE YOU BOARD.
You want him to get his crazies out as much as you can before you try to keep him still for hours and hours and hours.
Also, letting him crawl around the gate calls attention to your baby. Other passengers DIG CRAWLING BABIES. That affection for your baby may be very helpful when you actually get on the plane. For instance: recently I flew alone with Pancake. He made a LOT of friends while crawling around the gate area. Four hours later, he was weeping his eyes out at 30,000 feet — until one of his pals from the gate started playing peek-a-boo with him FROM ACROSS THE AISLE. It was awesome. Worth every single germ he could have picked up on the airport floor.
10. CHANGE DIAPERS / VISIT THE BATHROOM IMMEDIATELY BEFORE BOARDING.
The less time spent in airplane bathrooms, the better. It was like that BEFORE you had kids. It’s WAY MORE LIKE THAT NOW. Promise.
11. COUNT YOUR CARRY-ONS AGAIN AFTER YOU GET ON THE PLANE.
Carry-on Number, less the stroller. You checked the stroller at the gate.
12. INTRODUCE YOUR KIDS TO THE PEOPLE IN FRONT OF THEM.
If your children are old enough to get it, introduce them to the people sitting in front of you. Let them know that those nice people want to have a pleasant trip, and therefore it is not cool to scream and fight and kick their seats, because it will bother their new friends / scary-new-authority-figures-you-are-trying-to-offload disciplinary-duty on.
Don’t be ashamed to use your new friends in the row in front of you as threats, In the same way that your kids’ preschool teachers command more respect than you do — so do the poor souls who had the bad fortune to sit in front of you and your brood.
Also, if you are installing a car seat that will make it impossible for the person in the row in front of you to recline fully — APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE and offer to buy them drinks or movies.
I have heard of people handing out ear plugs to passengers sitting near their children, too. That said, most basic baby noise tends to get lost in the white noise of the plane. I have had my kids wail through many, many flights, only to have people only three or four rows back tell me how good-natured and well-behaved they were.
13. OFFER LIQUIDS AT TAKE-OFF.
Nurse if you’re nursing. If not, give your kids the drinks you bought at the airport. Swallowing things helps lessen the pain of air-pressure changes as you take-off.
Sucking on a pacifier also helps. Diddy sucks her fingers still, so I tell her to do that, because when I hand her gum she swallows it. Every time. No learning curve, that one.
14. AMUSE YOUR KIDS ONLY IF YOU HAVE TO.
Do not provide the food and toys you packed until necessary. Maybe you can buy time with the in-flight entertainment, or maybe your kids just want to stare out the window at the clouds. LET THEM. Hold back then heavy artillery until you need it.
Then DEPLOY IT as much as needed!
15. SNACKS ARE YOUR FRIENDS.
You know how you eat when you’re bored? Your kids will, too. When the toys and TV aren’t doing the trick, ply them with snacks.
On my recent flight with Pancake, I swear I fed him for 3 hours straight.
16. OFFER LIQUIDS AT LANDING.
Yep — same logic as take-off applies.
17. COUNT YOUR CARRY-ONS AGAIN AFTER YOU GET OFF THE PLANE.
And don’t forget to pick up your stroller and/or car seats at the gate! (Not that you would EVER forget the stroller. You need it to load all your crap into, remember?)
18. COUNT EVERYTHING AGAIN AFTER YOU RE-CLAIM YOUR LUGGAGE.
Yep — trot out the TOTAL LUGGAGE NUMBER again and be sure it’s the same number you started the day with. If it’s not … well, let’s not go there, shall we? The idea of spending any extra time in an airport with your kids, trying to track down lost luggage, is just to miserable to even begin to comprehend.
Congrats! You made it!
Now go have a good time.
This post is one of a 4-part series on Flying with Your Baby / Brood.
Part 1: Plan the Attack!
Part 2: Packing. Packing. And More Packing!
Part 3: Coping with Carry-ons
Part 4: Travel Day! A Curb-To-Curb How-To